Tirreno-Adriatico wrap: Petacchi fine tunes for San Remo while Dekker wins overall

Milram's Alessandro Petacchi has shown that he's in fine form with a win on stage 7 of Tirreno-Adriatico, and even more importantly Milram displayed the type of teamwork that'll be hard to beat come Saturday on Via Roma. Petacchi and team-mate Erik Zabel worked some 'tag-team magic' during the second half of the race to help bring back Joseba Albizu (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and set up AleJet for another win in 2006. "My team-mates worked perfectly and I started my sprint at 180 meters from the finish," said Petacchi after his win. "I thank my team-mates - Knees and Poitscke lead the bunch in the circuit. Cortinovis accelerated. Sacchi, Velo and Zabel got me to the last 180 metres," he explained.

It's been a sprinter's delight in this year's Tirreno, though no one rider has dominated the bunch finishes. Bettini, Freire, Hushovd and now Petacchi have enjoyed wins in the Italian race, and with Milan-San Remo this weekend all looks set for an excellent battle of the fast men. Bettini may be out of serious contention for a San Remo win following his crash on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico, but Liberty Seguros' Allan Davis, who has set the Italian classic as one of his goals for the season and world champion Tom Boonen will also go into Sunday's race as a favourite.

Petacchi was therefore happy to get a win ahead of his San Remo title defence, saying after the finish, "I hope we will have the same finish as last year. I hope I can counter the attacks on Cipressa and Poggio but I have a very strong team which has other alternatives to win." Meanwhile, further back in the pack Thomas Dekker was celebrating his first major stage race victory, showing class and intelligence to take the lead two stages earlier and hold onto it until the finish in St Benedetto Del Tronto. Watch for the young Dutchman in these shorter stage races throughout 2006 as he establishes himself as not just a young talent but a real contender.

The cards fall right for Dekker

After showing so much promise among the junior ranks, and with an eagerly anticipated move to the seniors, Thomas Dekker's potential as a stage race champion of the future has been confirmed with an overall win in Tirreno-Adriatico. With a past winners list that includes names such as Bettini, Freire and namesake Erik Dekker, winning the early season Italian stage race is no mean feat and must surely send a message that says, 'I have arrived'.

The quality of opposition 21-year-old Dekker beat on his way to the crown must also be a reassuring sign for Rabobank management and Dutch cycling in general; holding off past winners Bettini, Davide Rebellin and Filippo Pozzato on their home turf takes strength, something many observers know the young Dutchman possesses. His strength in the time trial, a discipline he has excelled in at world championships level, is of particular note - he was able to position himself perfectly to launch into the race lead following a time trial where he put more than 20 seconds into his nearest rival.

Dekker is a 'confidence rider', a breed that performs better when results are going their way. This significant win may just be the impetus for bigger and better things for Dekker, a young rider that has shown for some years he's well capable of producing these types of results and has now delivered. Apparently it came as no surprise for stage 7 winner Alessandro Petacchi, who said after the finish, "Before the race my team-mates asked me who I thought would win the Tirreno. I immediately said 'Thomas Dekker'. We train a lot together and I know how he was fixated on this race," before he added, laughing, "If only I had put money on it!" Chances are there'll be more money resting on the ability of Dekker to win races in the future.

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